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'Bath Salts' Are the Latest U.S. Media Hysteria Drug

A new drug sold legally in head shops as "bath salts" is getting a lot of media attention that may be doing more harm than good.

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Many people who buy ecstasy often learn the hard way, shortly after taking the pill, that it was not MDMA they swallowed but likely a combination of other chemicals, often including amphetamines and perhaps LSD, which produces a similar but more agitated – and more dangerous --high.

Even when they're legal, the ingredients in bath salts are not regulated; they come in different brands that offer different experiences. It is possible that different brands using different chemical combinations elicit different reactions from users, some of them more dangerous than others. Making bath salts illegal, however, is likely to make the problem worse. That's because when you bust a manufacturer, dealers often end up dry. Cutting drugs with other chemicals can be a way to stay in business, and it can also be a way to maximize profit. The less of the sought-after chemical dealers put in their drugs, the less they pay the chemists who make it. And they still sell the same number of pills, bags, etc.

An alternative to making the drug illegal is allowing shops to keep it in stock, so long as manufacturers follow strict regulations to maintain purity. Because they allow users a) to become familiar with the effects of the drugs at specific quantities; and b) to know exactly how much of a drug they will be ingesting, a consistent purity level is one of the best ways to prevent overdose.

During an investigation into bath salts by ABC’s 20/20, a producer purchased the (illegal) bath salts "ThundaCat" from a New York City head shop involved in a recent bath salts trafficking bust. According to ABC, lab tests showed this brand contained lidocaine, which dentists use to numb the mouth, but no MDPV, mephedrone or methylone. A numb mouth is a classic side effect of cocaine. Clearly, the makers of ThundaCat already know a thing or two about how to maximize profit: Cut the drug with something that produces a similar effect (or in this case, side effect) and save cash by spreading thin the product of demand.

Online forums show evidence for different brands leading to different reactions, but they also suggest that the terrifying trips reported by some bath salts users may be linked to other factors, like dosage, education and experience. One commenter said her experience with bath salts was “far more akin to that of speed and amphetamines” than cocaine. “When I snorted bath salts, the effects were immediate. My heart rate accelerated rapidly, my blood pressure zoomed ‘off the charts,’ and, subjectively speaking, I suddenly became ‘more voluble,’ extremely talkative, and the feeling was not unlike that of a ‘meth trip.’"

Others were not so impressed. One commenter offered: “This intense surge lasted for roughly an hour before it began to die down and I felt that I could actually sit down without jumping out of my skin. I didn’t feel the euphoria I felt with some of the other blends I had tried, only stimulation which was kind of a turn off for this blend. Not really suggested unless you want to pay for an expensive bath salt that just makes you uncomfortably awake.”

Another commenter added: “That first hit gave me a sexual euphoria, close to meth, for about a half of an hour. But if you are looking for replacement for that sexual energy you got from meth, I'm afraid you will be disappointed.”

In light of these reported experiences, it seems that people who did commit violent or otherwise shocking acts allegedly high on bath salts fell victim to the age-old factors (with which casual drug users are familiar) of a bad trip, not necessarily a bad drug: Dosage/method, lack of experience, predisposition to psychosis, and an uncomfortable social setting.

 
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